Sue Wilson, Queensland Regional Meeting
(A plea to listen to each other’s spiritual experiences rather than debate our beliefs)
In my thirty years among Friends, the thing I’ve most appreciated has been the way we allow ourselves and each other to seek, grow, question, and change. Over time, many of us move between certainty and uncertainty about the human and the divine. We use the language of God, of not-God, of Light-as-many things. Where else could I meet with people who allow for such breathtaking breadth?
I became a member of Friends after sixteen years as an attender, and I already owned many Quaker books. When I was asked what I would like to receive as my welcome-into-membership book, I chose The Miracle of Mindfulness written by Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Han. Whenever I see that book on my shelf, I ask myself – what other group would offer a membership gift that shows such openness!
So when I look at the results of the Australian Quaker survey, I’m delighted by the breadth and balance. For every f/Friend who doesn’t believe in God (13%) there is another f/Friend who believes that Jesus is the Son of God (13%.)
On the other hand, I’m sorry that 24% of us feel out of place or uncomfortable – 14% of those with traditional theist beliefs and 10% of those with non-traditional, non-theist beliefs.
My own experience of God/Reality
My preference for talking about experience rather than beliefs grows out of my own spiritual experience. Three or four times in my life, I have suddenly felt surrounded by a presence – Love and Goodness filling the space around me, like a huge balloon, bursting against the walls. The presence was all around me and yet it was in me as well.
Each time, this overwhelming experience lasted about twenty minutes. It was beyond any words to describe it. However when I began to emerge from the intensity, my wordy mind did put words to it.
· The first time, when I was seventeen, the word that came was Jesus.
· The second time, when I was in my thirties, I called the experience God.
· The third time, when I was 47, I felt I’d met Reality.
If the same person, through four decades, uses different language for the very same ultimate experience, this seems to demonstrate that words are inadequate and interchangeable.
To wrestle with what I believe about my experiences is to miss the point. Their source could be my self, reality, Light, Jesus, or God. All I know is that they have left me more peaceful, loving, grateful, happy, and productive than I was before them.
Reading this, you may be choosing your own interpretation of what you think was happening to me. You may be right. However, I trust that you will simply hear how important these experiences have been for me.
Hearing each other while letting our critical faculties rest
One place where we do simply hear each other’s important experiences is in worship sharing. This is one of my favourite Quaker activities, and I’d love to see it used more often. I’ll end this article with Patricia Loring’s description of worship sharing as an activity that lets our critical faculties rest!
My favourite image of worship sharing centres on a quiet pool of water in the sunlight … Around the pool is a group of quiet, comfortable people. Each has a collection of stones before her.
Each person selects from his collection, a single stone to throw into the water. The stone may be selected because it is similar to the one that was thrown in previously, or because it is very different, or because it complements another, or because it is the most beautiful one in that person’s collection, … or for some other reason.
The occasion has a great sense of peace and leisure about it. We watch as each person slowly selects her stone and tosses it… As if in slow motion, we watch the stone leave the hand, arc through the sunlight and enter the water. We see the water splash up around it. The stone slowly sinks through the clear water, coming to rest on the sandy bottom. We watch the ripples spread out in concentric rings, lapping against the side of the pool. Gradually they diminish in size and smooth away.
Then the next person selects his stone…
When the last ripple has died way, we may have a unique collection of individual stones in the pool. Or we may find that a pattern has emerged, independent of our plans or volition, which would not have risen had we not come together in this way, or had someone been missing. We may find ourselves as deeply spoken to by this pattern as by individual contributors.